28 And there came prophets in the land again, crying repentance unto them—that they must prepare the way of the Lord or there should come a curse upon the face of the land; yea, even there should be a great famine, in which they should be destroyed if they did not repent.As I was reading this story again, I was struck by this idea of poisonous serpents hedging up the way, poisoning many people, and preventing them from escaping famine conditions. The poisonous serpents reminded me of the snake in the Garden of Eden, which tempted our first parents to eat the fruit.
29 But the people believed not the words of the prophets, but they cast them out; and some of them they cast into pits and left them to perish. And it came to pass that they did all these things according to the commandment of the king, Heth.
30 And it came to pass that there began to be a great dearth upon the land, and the inhabitants began to be destroyed exceedingly fast because of the dearth, for there was no rain upon the face of the earth.
31 And there came forth poisonous serpents also upon the face of the land, and did poison many people. And it came to pass that their flocks began to flee before the poisonous serpents, towards the land southward, which was called by the Nephites Zarahemla.
32 And it came to pass that there were many of them which did perish by the way; nevertheless, there were some which fled into the land southward.
33 And it came to pass that the Lord did cause the serpents that they should pursue them no more, but that they should hedge up the way that the people could not pass, that whoso should attempt to pass might fall by the poisonous serpents.
34 And it came to pass that the people did follow the course of the beasts, and did devour the carcasses of them which fell by the way, until they had devoured them all. Now when the people saw that they must perish they began to repent of their iniquities and cry unto the Lord.
35 And it came to pass that when they had humbled themselves sufficiently before the Lord he did send rain upon the face of the earth; and the people began to revive again, and there began to be fruit in the north countries, and in all the countries round about. And the Lord did show forth his power unto them in preserving them from famine. (Ether 9:28-35)
So I began to look for other scriptures that mentioned poisonous serpents, serpents, and poison.
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (Matthew 23:13)This sounds like the scribes and pharisees were hedging up the way spiritually.
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?This sounds like the spiritual parallel of how the serpents were making the people flee and try to escape.
34 ¶ Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: (Matthew 23:33-34)
Other human counterparts of poisonous serpents
And it came to pass that Amalickiah caused that one of his servants should administer poison by degrees to Lehonti, that he died. (Alma 47:18)Amalickiah is definitely a poisonous person. He poisons Lehonti and then he appoints men to speak from towers against the Nephites to poison the Lamanites’ hearts and stir them to anger against the Nephites
They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips. (Psalms 140:3)Filthiness poisons
And again, he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the chaff thereof in the whirlwind; and the effect thereof is poison. (Mosiah 7:30)This suggests to me that breaking the commandments can poison us against the truth.
Be cautious that no poison is administering among you
30 And many times did they attempt to administer of their wine to the Nephites, that they might destroy them with poison or with drunkenness.I’ve noticed that it really helps to cultivate and ask for the gift of discernment to be able to discover whether some spiritual influence is poisonous or healthy. And if I recognize that something is consistently embittering and poisonous, is it really smart to keep going to it? Umm… no.
31 But behold, the Nephites were not slow to remember the Lord their God in this their time of affliction. They could not be taken in their snares; yea, they would not partake of their wine, save they had first given to some of the Lamanite prisoners.
32 And they were thus cautious that no poison should be administered among them; for if their wine would poison a Lamanite it would also poison a Nephite; and thus they did try all their liquors. (Alma 55:30-32)
If we have been poisoned, we can be healed
20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them…and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved. (2 Nephi 25:20)We learn here that Christ has power to heal us if we have been poisoned spiritually with unbelief, doubt, fear, etc. We have to “cast our eyes” upon Him, or believe in Him and come unto Him.
In Ether, we get a fascinating epilogue, which can give us hope.
And it came to pass that Lib also did that which was good in the sight of the Lord. And in the days of Lib the poisonous serpents were destroyed…(Ether 10:19)It is significant that it says that the poisonous serpents were completely destroyed just after it says that the king did what was good. This shows us that when we do good, that destroys the influence of Satan. This anticipates the future Millennial reign of Christ when Satan will be bound and have no power to tempt because of the righteousness of the people.
Image from Telegraph.co.uk, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/3372712/Snakes-kill-more-than-90000-around-the-world.html, Getty Images.